As I continue to read The Yellow House by Martin Gayford, I continue to discover fascinating details about these two great post-Impressionist painters. I’ve already commented about the way they portrayed themselves as literary characters in self-portraits — Van Gogh, in particular, was an avid reader — but now I’ve found that they sartorialized themselves in imitation of their heroes.
Van Gogh was a great admirer of a Marseillais painter named Adolph Monticelli. He outfitted himself in conscious imitation of his hero, “with an enormous yellow hat, a black velvet jacket, white trousers, yellow gloves, a bamboo cane and with a grand southern air,” and so appeared to the public in Arles, where he and Gauguin were living.
Self portrait by Adolph Monticelli
A Fete in a Garden
Monticelli had been influenced by the Barbizon School in his youth, but one notices immediately in his paintings the same subjects as Watteau, i.e. courtlife and pastoral luxury, and Delacroix, i.e. orientalist scenes. Van Gogh’s interests were more in keeping with the Barbizon painters in that he portrayed the lives of peasants. One can see the same outlining of objects and figures and the thick paint strokes in Monticelli’s work and Van Gogh’s.
Gauguin liked to dress like a Breton sailor, though he was now living in the south of France. Many of his figures are symbolic and drawn from his own imagination, so he kept adding Bretonnes to his Provencal scenes. He loved their traditional costumes. Just before arriving at the Yellow House Van Gogh had acquired in Arles, Gauguin painted A Vision after the Sermon:
Theo Van Gogh has sold a painting of Gauguin’s called Breton Girls in a Ring, which gave the artists something to live on for a while:
I think these conceits are typical of the creative mind. They weren’t put on as cosplay. They were assumed as self-expression. Costuming creates a persona; it is a step on the path of self-realization. How could persons with such inner drive to express their ideas visually, often without remuneration, NOT express themselves in their personal style as well?